Giving up the Bird on Thanksgiving



When we moved into our renovated house in late October 2005 I said to my husband, “We should host Thanksgiving this year.” We finally had a real dining room after living in our shoebox on the Upper West Side.

“No one will come,” he said.

I knew he was right. No one wants a turkey-less Thanksgiving. I resigned myself to a meal at someone else’s house, cringing at the sight of a gravy-dripping bird proudly displayed in the center of a dining room table.

It was either that or dinner for three, which my husband, daughter and I did one year.

This year there’s a twist in the family drama. Various dysfunctions among siblings, parents and even a friend prevent others from hosting. My dining room will be christened for Thanksgiving. What I’m most grateful for is the chance to gather nearly a dozen people for a meat-less harvest meal.

I stopped eating meat 30 years ago, the day I arrived at college. The decision was not borne of some great moral struggle, though I’ve always had a deep, abiding love for animals. I eat cheese and eggs. I never saw vegetarianism as a movement or something to broadcast, much less proselytize about.

Now I do.

Now I know far too much to hope only my husband (a vegetarian since we got together a decade ago) and my seven-year-old daughter will follow my lead. Now I hope to convince as many humans as I can to think about the connection between what they eat and how it was raised. I want to do whatever I’m able to connect the dots between E-coli and factory farming. I’m urging everyone I come in contact with to watch the documentary “Food Inc,” even though I spent a good portion of it crouching behind the seat, cupping my ears.

Food Inc. showed me I had work to do. I hadn’t made the connection that cheese I’d been buying at stores like Whole Foods might be made with milk from factory-farm cows. That next Thursday, I found a local cheese artisan, Shepherd Valley of New Jersey, at my town’s farm market. During the weekend, my family visited this amazing sheep farm that is responsible for the most delicious, grass-fed cheese. The butter I bought at their farm store showed me I had no idea what real butter tastes like.

I read egg cartons as carefully as I read bank statements. I know free-range and cage-free and all that marketing hullabaloo does not insure laying hens are living a humane existence. I try my best. Sometimes the twee farmy name on the cartoon makes me reach for a particular brand. Until I stop procrastinating and raise chickens (which I’ve been swearing to do since I moved to a big piece of land in suburbia) I will not be satisfied that I’m eating ethically-grown eggs.

We live with so many disconnects. So much about how we live and what we’re exposed to makes us feel powerless. Eating is an exception. Eating is the great equalizer. I can be conscious about every food I choose or reject. With every trip to the health food store or farm market or the farm out yonder I can teach my daughter she never ever has to set foot in an A&P. Or more importantly, what she eats has a story. And every story has something to do with dirt or a tree or an animal. And she has a place in this cycle of life.

I’m already anticipating a few wise cracks over the dinner table on Thanksgiving. Just for sport, you know. I could launch into a lecture on how turkeys have been so genetically modified that they are incapable of natural reproduction. Or I can cook up a harvest feast of my husband’s home-made breads, creamy potato leek soup, sweet potato fries, fresh salads and other vegetables dishes that will leave everyone just as stuffed and overfed as they would otherwise be.

If I’m really lucky, right before we gather around the table before dusk, someone will notice the sound of crunching leaves outside the window. The kids will run over first and squeal with delight at the brood of wild turkeys pecking at the lawn. The rest of us will not be able to resist watching these iridescent feathery creatures pursuing subsistence.

I love these birds. They are always a great source of pleasure and humor. But on Thanksgiving, I will raise my glass to them and whisper “lucky you.”

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  1. Monday, November 16th, 2009
    I absolutely see your point. Now that I have educated myself more on "indutrial" food, I want to stop supporting it as much as possible. It's hard but I'm making progress. However, I believe that it's importnat to support animal farms that do treat their animals humanely, letting them live the life nature intended, even if that life is destined for a dining room table. If I knew how, I might even hunt my own turkey.

    The problem is, people like to eat meat. It's what humans do. I don't believe we will ever come to a point where every person is vegetarian. But I would like to see a world where those hwo choose to eat meat also make teh choice to eat animals that lived an animal-life, not an industrial one. And the only way that will happen is if we buy meat from those farms. I'm paying $65 for a 14lb turkey, but to me, it's worth every penny.
  2. Monday, November 16th, 2009
    I used to think that people who ate meat simply did not know better, but you would have to have your head in the sand (or elsewhere) to not know the horrors of factory farming -- from harm to the environment, waterways, public health, animal cruelty, etc. etc. etc. and etc.

    One day we may all have to answer for our sins and even the most fervent biblest would reject thinking that dominion over the animals means that we can inflict needless cruelty on them, or alter their genetics to the point where they can not self-sustain. Where are the good Republican Christians when you need them?
  3. Amerigo
    Monday, November 16th, 2009
    Food Inc. and Fast Food Nation and Michael Pollan all make the case against factory farming. I would think most everyone who reads this blog agrees with those arguements. The problem with your arguement is that you seem to assume there is no alternative. With a little effort, even in the burbs of Jersey, you can find ethically raised meat.

    You also seem to suggest that all turkeys are "genetically modified" (artificial insemination is not gentitically modified), to the point that they can't have sex, when all heritage breeds, like the ones that local and organic farms raise, naturally reproduce.

    I agree with your objection to factory farms and respect your choice to be vegetarian, but please do not write as if not eating meat were THE alternative to factory farming.
  4. Monday, November 16th, 2009
    More importantly than a meatless Thanksgiving in my opinion is that the meal should be made from responsible ingredients. I myself was vegetarian for 6 years. I became a vegetarian because of factory farming frustrations and my love for animals.

    I have not been vegetarian for 10 years now and in that time I have not purchased any irresponsibly raised/butchered meat. I refuse to shop in the grocery store for industrial meat and I do not even see that as food. Nowadays I raise my own heritage breed chickens and turkeys (which CAN reproduce on their own as they are not the hybrid varieties) and keep my own laying hens. My husband and I do a cow-share each year and buy our beef from a local family who raises their beef organically and on grass. We harvest our own salmon from the Copper River in Alaska. I am proud to day that 100% of the meat and fish I consume is local and responsibly raised/harvested. I think these things should come into consideration when the meat no-meat debate comes up.

    Please (this is aimed at everyone) take a look at what else you are serving for Thanksgiving and where the ingredients come from. Simply because the meal is vegetarian does not mean that it is 100% sustainable or free from industrial foods and animal-cruelty.
  5. Monday, November 16th, 2009
    do what you want in your own home, sure. i'm not arguing with that. but this article and its tone is an example of preaching to the converted, i think.

    the way to win people over to the cause is to expose the risks of factory farming within cool and mostly analytical format (as food inc aimed to do). doing so will more successfully push consumers towards preferring sustainably grown and safely processed meat. i know you care about this deeply, but your fervor is undermining your goal (if your goal is conversion, that is!).

    that said, i agree that we need to encourage a change in our current factory farming system. but the shift won't be from factory farms to no meat farms whatsoever (the first commenter gets at this, too); it will be a shift from disgusting factory farms to less disgusting factory farms and also to smaller meat producers and processors. this is a good read: http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/food/pubs/reports/wheres-the-local-beef

    follow me on twitter: @jaredmast
  6. Gerardo Tristan
    Tuesday, November 17th, 2009
    To said that eatign meat is "what humans do" is absolutly narrow and a lie. There are more than 50% of people in India who are vegetarians and many other cultures eat way less meat than americans or not meat at all. Please refrain from using the US culture and experience as if it was the mesure for the world because the world has more humans than americans,,. Next time think about serious and deeply ethical issues so please think harder beforem making ridiculus, racist and plain ignorant comments.

    BY now all the ridiculus excuses for eating meat are so repetitive and evidence the white privilege of rich coutry citizens who still have a long way to go regarding "digesting opression".
  7. Wednesday, November 18th, 2009
    @Gerardo Tristan - do you mean to say that eating meat is a US thing?? Just because many people choose to be vegetarians does not change the fact that humans, AS A SPECIES, are omnivores. This is a matter of biology - our bodies are designed to be able to hunt and digest animals. This has been happening for hundreds of thousands of years before there was such a thing as India or the United States. My point is that I believe there will never be a day when the whole world chooses to be vegetarian. I don't think anyone truly believes this in our species' future, certainly not as a choice. Therefore, I feel we need give omnivores (the majority of humans) better ways to eat meat.